Judging caramel competitions has expanded my candy interests from strictly chocolate to include artisan caramels. I even buy local caramels on occasion — Socola Chocolatier
Craftsman and Wolves is an SF bakery/patisserie known for their unusual offerings — a soft boiled egg encased in a muffin is the showstopper — and they also make some confections like these caramels. If you are interested in candy with a grownup twist, one or more of these caramels might fit the bill.
Starting with the basic black bags decorated with an appetizing image of the caramels surrounded by the company name printed in gold with a small wolf logo above the caramel flavor printed in white, you can tell these are aimed at a sophisticated foodie market. The ingredients lists are upscale — not very long, all real food ingredients, somewhat esoteric (trimoline? what’s that?), and quality brands (Valrhona chocolate, yes!). Eminently giftable.
The resealable packages each contained 8 large caramels. How big? I took to twisting and pulling these approximately 2″ caramels into smaller pieces to try. They really are too big for one or two bites — unless you’re making mukbang videos or something, then have at it.
The most mainstream flavor of the 3 was the Smoked Butter — but it was a unique experience in itself.
The caramel smelled like vanilla and tasted strongly of vanilla instead of butter as you might expect from the name. Also the smooth, chewy caramel was not smoky tasting — and I know it’s possible because I’ve had candies with smoke flavoring before. Overall it wasn’t buttery tasting enough for me.
Instead it tasted like a Sugar Daddy — remember those? Hard caramel lollipops wrapped in wax paper. For the older crowd these could be a fun nostalgia inducing treat. Definitely higher grade — Sugar Daddies don’t have any butter in them but they do include palm oil and artificial flavors. Craftsman and Wolves’ Smoked Butter Caramels on the other hand only contain 3 types of sugar, cream, smoked butter, a little salt, and vanilla bean.
Just know that while these are well made caramels, they should probably be renamed or the recipe tweaked. Vanilla was the strongest flavor, underneath that the caramel was more of a milky caramel than a buttery one. And any smokiness has drifted away.
The other 2 caramels seemed to be Asian inspired like a lot of Craftsman and Wolves pastries which include ingredients like Buddha’s hand, lychee, Vietnamese coffee, papaya, and oolong tea.
As the name implies the Yuzu Almond included yuzu juice and almonds — plus lemon juice, Valrhona white chocolate, and cocoa butter along with the traditional sugar and butter.
These caramels were a pretty, very light yellow color with visible sliced almonds. They smelled lightly citrusy and had an immediate yuzu flavor — but the white chocolate underneath turned it into a lemon icing taste.
These were the farthest away from a traditional caramel experience of the bunch. Unusual flavors in caramels are nothing new but in addition to the flavor these didn’t have a real caramel texture. They were not chewy — they dissolved quickly instead except for the crunchy almonds — and they had a slightly sugary texture.
They were not buttery at all and very sweet. Too sweet for me, these caramels are maybe a new candy type — or at least one I haven’t had before — like somewhere between a ganache and a caramel. If you want a different caramel experience — and like sweets — these are interesting.
On the opposite end of the sweetness scale was the 3rd caramel from Craftsman and Wolves, the Chocolate Shoyu Caramel. Shoyu is Japanese style soy sauce which is sweeter than Chinese soy sauce — but it’s still a savory ingredient.
The other ingredients were 80% Valrhona dark chocolate, cream, butter, and 3 types of sugar. The dark chocolate and shoyu made the caramels an attractive dark brown color.
I think the shoyu also gave the caramels a very soft texture — when I pinched a piece to sample it stretched a looong way before breaking off.
The texture was syrupy not chewy and tasted like a savory chocolate with coffee overtones. It wasn’t as salty as I thought it might be with shoyu as a highlighted ingredient.
Knowing it was flavored with soy sauce I thought I could taste it a little but if I didn’t know what flavor it was supposed to be I would have said coffee and something savory/umami. Like the other Craftsman and Wolves caramels this was not a buttery caramel. Instead it was more chocolatey than buttery with a strong umami streak.
If you are intrigued by more savory caramels but apprehensive, you might like this one — it doesn’t scream SOY SAUCE but it is definitely a more umami experience — just not far removed from a coffee caramel.
You can buy Craftsman and Wolves caramels at their cafes in the Mission and Bayview neighborhoods, online, at some local stores, and farmers markets. Visit their website for more info.